K-Love and Rubio Must Follow Brandon Roy's Gutsy Lead

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 22, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 12:  Kevin Love #42 of the Minnesota Timberwolves reacts after hitting a three point shot past Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game at US Airways Center on March 12, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Timberwolves defeated the Suns 127-124.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Brandon Roy's arthritis in his knees nearly derailed one of the NBA's most exciting careers in recent memory. As it is, they have already dragged him from the ranks of rising star to hobbled veteran. And there's a good chance those knees will close this chapter in his life far earlier than he could ever planned.

But to Roy, getting back to the basketball court had more to do with controlling his destiny than his burning desire to return to the NBA hardwood. He told The Oregonian's Jason Quick that a return from his 2011 retirement required a check of his ego, but offered a therapeutic way for him to leave the game on his own terms.

His new employer, the Minnesota Timberwolves, entered the 2012-13 season with as many expectations as question marks. They had already planned to be without Ricky Rubio, rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered during the 2011-12 season.

Then, Kevin Love, the franchise player who brought Olympic gold back from London this summer, broke his hand during a workout and would also miss the beginning of the new season.

Roy's attempted comeback just added to that list, as did the return of Andrei Kirilenko, who spent last season playing overseas.

The talent had been put in place. The biggest question, though, was whether or not this collection of players would ever see the floor together.

Prior to Rubio's injury, the Timberwolves were worried more about playoff seeding than just getting in the dance as a postseason berth seemed inevitable. But Minnesota had some glaring voids on its  roster, not the least of them being a capable second option to draw attention away from Love.

So, its gamble on a rehabbing Roy was understandable. Surely, it wasn't expecting him to compete for his fourth All-Star team. But if the Washington product could even show flashes of his former self, it might have been enough.

Roy struggled mightily in five games (5.8 points on 31.4 percent shooting) before yet another knee injury forced him off the floor. He wasn't even close to being that coveted No. 2 option. If anything, he was so ineffective that he actually brought Love more double-teams.

But his performance didn't make this signing a failure. In fact, it may be impossible to grade the move for a few seasons.

Adding a player with Roy's talent is exciting, even if he's not 100 percent. But adding a player with his character to a locker room featuring two budding, youthful superstars is almost a bargain at the $5.1 million it will cost the team this season.

Love is an elite talent. He scores well from inside and out (career 37.0 three-point percentage), keeps the ball moving on the offensive end and rebounds as well as anyone in the NBA (career 12.0 per game).

Rubio is pesky defender (2.2 steals per game in his rookie season) and a player who can affect a game's outcome with his passing (8.2 assists per game).

But given their age and their positions in Minnesota's pecking order, they needed a strong veteran presence around them. They haven't had the opportunity to draw on the wealth of knowledge that a player with Roy's ability has accumulated.

Roy's passion for the sport is contagious. Just his story alone should motivate Rubio and Love through the vigorous daily workouts that come with the profession.

He's also one of the few players in the league who can teach these two how to run a franchise at such a young age. Like Love and Rubio in Minnesota, Roy was handed the keys to the Portland Trail Blazers shortly after his 2006 arrival.

If these three can see enough possessions together this season, Minnesota could yet again compete for the club's first playoff berth since 2003-04. But even if their interactions are limited to the training room and film sessions, the Timberwolves will be in prime position for a lengthy postseason stay when that drought ends.